Japan is making progress toward opening its doors to refugees in “small steps” but could do more to support displaced people in areas of conflict, including the Rohingya, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in Tokyo on Friday.
As Japan prepares to accept more foreign workers, Grandi told the Japan National Press Club that Tokyo needs to improve the nation’s treatment of refugees, noting the lack of comprehensive legislation on the issue.
Ahead of the news conference, Grandi met with Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, who explained the government’s plan to double the number of refugees admitted to Japan to 60 by 2020.
But Grandi called that number — as well Japan’s cap limiting refugees from Myanmar to 30 a year — “very small,” calling for as much expansion as possible as quickly as possible. Japan has accepted a total of 174 refugees from Myanmar, including Rohingya Muslims who have fled the western Rakhine state, under the third-country resettlement program that started in 2010.
Asked to comment on a case earlier this month in which the Tokyo High Court rejected a Syrian refugee’s challenge of a Justice Ministry decision to not grant him refugee status, Grandi said he won’t comment on individual cases. But he expressed concern that Japanese courts may not have enough experience to properly judge such cases, saying that the organization is ready to provide necessary technical support and training.
In a separate meeting with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, Grandi said he discussed the importance of a refugee team competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as it did at the 2016 Rio Games. “The presence of a refugee team will also provide an opportunity to highlight the important role that Japan must play in supporting the cause of refugees in Japan and globally,” Grandi said.
Grandi praised Japan for being the fifth-biggest donors to UNHCR after the U.S., the European Union, Sweden and Germany as of September 2018, although the contribution has dropped by half from 2013. Those contributions greatly improved living conditions for refugees, including helping them avoid flooding during the rainy season in Bangladesh, where around 1 million Rohingya have fled, he said.
Still, many more measures need to be taken by countries in the region, including Japan, to solve the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, Grandi said.
“We are calling on other states to express solidarity with Rakhine people and to take concrete steps that will also encourage the government of Myanmar to take necessary measures. There is a lot of work to be done in this respect,” Grandi said.
In the months since violence broke out in Rakhine state in August 2017, around 723,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries, according to UNHCR.